Californians See a Widening Economic Divide

photo - Empty Lot and Run Down Brick Buildings in Downtown Sacramento, California

Californians have long seen the state as divided into haves and have-nots, and the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted—and threatened to reinforce—the state’s economic divide. While state leaders are taking some steps to foster an equitable recovery, most Californians say the gap between the rich and the poor in their part of the state is getting larger.

The most recent PPIC Statewide Survey, Californians and Their Economic Well-Being, found that a record-high 69% of Californians say the gap between the rich and the poor is getting larger, while 25% say it has stayed the same (6% say it is getting smaller). These perceptions are widespread, and nearly as many said the gap was widening a year ago.

Majorities across demographic groups agree that the gap between rich and poor is widening, but there are notable differences. For example, across racial/ethnic groups, Latinos (56%) are much less likely than whites (73%), African Americans (77%), and Asian Americans (79%) to hold this view. In addition, the share of Californians who see the gap widening increases with rising education and is larger among those with household incomes of $80,000 or more.

Looking ahead to the year 2030, most Californians (64%) think the gap between rich and poor residents in the state will be larger than it is today (10% say smaller, 25% say it will be the same). Views are similar across regions, partisan lines, and demographic groups.

Most Californians favor policies that close the gap between rich and poor, and strong majorities support policies ranging from tuition-free college, to increased funding for job training programs, to more childcare programs for lower-income working parents.

With willing leadership and a supportive public, as well as an influx of federal funds and a projected state budget surplus, California seems well positioned to address income inequality. Policymakers will need to find common ground on what an equitable recovery might look like—and what the state should do to promote it.


Californians See a Widening Economic Divide